Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chutzpah About Cuba Remains

(a repost from April 28, 2015 inspired by media frames on the death of Fidel Castro)

Harry Targ
Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory... If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society. (Harry Targ, Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 1992, 6)

The predominant image projected about Cuba from U.S. official government sources and the media has not changed much over the last two hundred and fifty years. Ever since the founding of the United States, Cuba has been seen as a victimized land populated by masses eager to break away from Spanish colonial control preferably to affiliate with the United States. Early American political figures such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams proclaimed that the United States was willing and able to appropriate the island nation when the Spanish were ready to leave the Caribbean. In the antebellum period, Southern politicians urged that Cuba be incorporated into the slave South.
In the period before the Spanish/Cuban/American War of 1898, the images of the U.S. obligation to the Cuban people presented in newspapers and theaters likened the former to a masculine hero compelled to rescue Cuba, characterized as a damsel in distress. The brutal Spanish were figuratively raping the Cuban women. At the same time Afro-Cuban men, the narrative suggested, were unable to liberate their people. Consequently, the United States, it was broadly proclaimed, must act on behalf of the Cuban people.

After the Spanish/American/Cuban War the U.S. generals and diplomats wrote the Cuban constitution in negotiations with the departing Spanish and hand-picked Cuban leaders. Over the next sixty years the floodgates were opened for ever larger investments in U.S. owned sugar plantations. After World War II, the U.S. domination of the Cuban economy expanded to include tourism, casinos, and gangsters. In every epoch, a popular story about the U.S./Cuban relationship depicted a stern but wise parent necessarily overseeing an energetic and passionate, but immature, child.

But then the long revolutionary struggle of the 1950s achieved victory and the narrative changed. The ungrateful Cubans followed the treacherous new leaders: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and a grassroots movement of peasants, workers, students, women, Afro-Cubans, and solidarity workers from across the globe. As the U.S. government and the dominant media saw it the revolution meant nothing but trouble: communism; crazy ideas about free health care and education; great debates about moral versus material incentives that even found their way into work sites; the export of medical expertise; and sometimes the provision of soldiers to help anti-colonial struggles. It was all bad news for almost sixty years.
Despite the best efforts of the United States to derail the trajectory of Cuban society, the Cuban revolution survived. Now, wiser heads in Washington have decided that economic blockades, internal subversion, assassination plots, and efforts to isolate Cuba from the international community were ineffective. It was time for a new policy: normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.   Official spokespersons suggested and media outlets declared that the best way to help the Cuban people recover from their sixty years of pain and suffering is to establish normal diplomatic and commercial ties with the island.

In a recent essay in USA Today, “Cubans Are Still Waiting for the Thaw,” Alan Gomez argues that Cubans are getting impatient with the pace of change that has occurred since December, 2014, when Presidents Castro and Obama announced the opening of relations. He quotes a Cuban economist who says that because relations with the United States are critical to a small country like Cuba, the latter wants to be careful not to make any mistakes in developing new policies.

But Gomez suggests the Cubans are restless. He reminds the reader that Americans were very frustrated with the stagnation of the U.S. economy during the recent recession. But just imagine he poses:
          going through that kind of economic malaise for more than half a   century. So when they’re told that the end is near, that the Americans and    their money are coming to save them, you can’t blame them for getting antsy           as they look over the horizon (USA Today, April 23, 2015).

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that means audacity or nerve. Usually it refers to statements made that are so outlandish that they defy the imagination. This statement, suggesting that Cubans have been waiting for sixty years for the Americans to come with their ideology of possessive individualism, markets, support for big corporations,  and the promotion of consumerism, ranks among the great expressions of chutzpah in our time. It ignores the beacon of hope, the inspiration, the material progress in health care, education, culture, and work place experimentation in the relations of production, which makes Cuba an actor many times bigger in the eyes of the world than its size.
In the end, a real transformation of United States/Cuban relations will require a fundamental change in the American consciousness such that it respects the qualities of both countries, not the superiority of one over the other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Harry Targ

Election Expectations

I like most political observers believed the polls. It is interesting to note that some pundits, such as filmmaker Michael Moore, were warning of a Trump victory. These people were more likely to be in touch with working people, particularly in economically devastated areas. The media played a big role in "creating" the Trump candidacy then making him out to be a monster for mainstream viewers, thus ignoring the patronizing way the Trump message was seen by some of his base.

Why did Trump win?

A careful analysis explaining the Trump victory requires a multi-factor analysis. Over the last 24 hours I have seen compelling explanations from Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Glenn Greenwald.*  Statements by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are informative as well.

Substantively we need to reflect on the role and impact of 40 years of neoliberal globalization and its key components--financialization, privatization, deindustrialization, downsizing the civilian sector of the economy and boosting the military industrial complex, and union-busting. Neoliberal globalization expanded dramatically in the Reagan period in the 1980s and was given a centrist stamp of approval in the Clinton presidency. The impacts on working people have been devastating.

Deeply embedded in the logic of capitalism is the exploitation of all workers and the particular dehumanization and objectification of workers of color. Over time racism has developed an autonomous character and has been used to divide the working class. The Trump campaign used the historic and institutionalized racism and white supremacy to mobilize some of his base. As to this election, race and class matter.

In addition, we cannot forget the institutionalization of patriarchy, a system developed long before the rise of capitalism but used along with race to divide the working class, and pit people at the base against each other. Modern forms of sexism have used the media to objectify and dehumanize women, a tool that also played out significantly in this election campaign.

Finally, the media--print, electronic, networks and cable--created the candidacy of Donald Trump giving him free air time, communicating his most bombastic statements, all to increase viewership and profit. Five media conglomerates control about half of all of what we citizens consume. The Trump campaign was a boon to their profits. After he was nominated the media shifted to the Trump as monster narrative, equally profitable. While the latter appealed to the liberal political junkies it was ignored or resented by the Trump base. We news junkies were fooled into expecting a Clinton victory. The same shortsightedness governed polling operations and our consumption of polling data.  

Prospects for the Future

The struggles for economic democracy, social justice, an end to racism and sexism will continue. The Sanders campaign was an inspirational predictor of the popular struggles that will move forward into the future. Of particular relevance is that the millenials of the Sanders campaign, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15 and environmental movements are in the majority. Of course the dangers of radical setbacks in the short run are great—including further deterioration of the environment, encouragement of violent fascist groups, more police violence, attacks on women's rights, and efforts to destroy basic health care. The good news is that progressive groups and a twenty-first century left are expanding. The bad news is the struggles will require more defense than offense in the short-run. I think we can win, if the environment holds up.

Fears and Hopes

I fear the unleashing of more police violence and vigilantism against people of color and immigrants, significant reversal of the modest gains in saving the environment, and possible destruction of people’s programs (for me as well) such as Medicare, Social Security, public education.

My hope is that the anti-Trump "crowds" hitting the streets, the progressive movements in the Democratic Party, old and new leftists, and the inspiring new issue specific campaigns such as in North Dakota, will flower and grow. It is our only hope.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Defeat Trump First

November 2, 2016


Harry Targ

The presidential candidacy of Donald Trump has mobilized rightwing populists, economic nationalists, racists, anti-Muslims and anti-Semites, sectors of the marginalized and growing precariat, and some Republicans. His stock in trade has been a continuous communication by brief soundbites and tweets lies and innuendos, egregious insults, personal attacks, and slanders. These have exceeded much of the history of political discourse in the United States (with the possible exception of the anti-Communist ravings of the 1950s and the virulently hostile campaigns in the days of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr).

It is clear to most well-meaning political activists of the center and the left, that a Trump presidency would cause untold pain and suffering to an already aggrieved population of people of color, workers, women, gays and lesbians, and advocates for the environment. However, Donald Trump, for a year now, has been a candidate who is largely a creation of the mainstream media. Day after day mainstream media reported on the candidate’s every word, his seeming popularity, and his “presumptiveness” as the Republican nominee of his party. CBS executive Leslie Moonves said about the Trump candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” (Campbell Brown, “Why I Blame TV for Trump,” Politico Magazine, May/June 2016). The Trump candidacy has been worth millions more dollars in corporate profit for a news industry that has experienced declining viewership and readership in recent years. 

 Once Trump secured almost enough delegates to be nominated the Republican candidate, the media, including liberal and left voices, launched a non-stop effort to discredit his background, his assertions, and his broad array of rightwing supporters. And since candidate Trump continuously articulates his bizarre views he has become the gift that never stops giving. The frame has shifted from Trump the curiosity to Trump the monster. Both tropes, it is hoped, will increase the viewership and advertising as 24/7 coverage shifts to the general election.

The narrow media frame on the Trump phenomenon and his daily statements lead to a portrait of an electoral contest with his Democratic Party opponent that prioritizes personalities and sound bites and not ideas, issues, worldviews, or ideologies. The media frame reaffirms the typical American personality “binary,” that is if not Trump then the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton. Although the differences between the two candidates matter, fundamental questions of policy and purpose which should be part of political discourse are frozen out of the political process. The central issue of the election has become Donald Trump.

The Trump candidacy has poisoned and distorted the real political contest of ideas undergirding the issues of the twenty first century. Black Lives Matter, the Occupy, the Fight for 15, Moral Mondays, and the climate change movements are all about the fundamental structural impediments to any semblance of a humane society. Many of the issues articulated by these campaigns have been reflected in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. But because of the Trump media frame and the political binary these vital issues do not get discussed. 

Fundamentally, because Trump represents the worst aspects of United States history and politics, political conversations center on him. They do not address the connections between capitalism and poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, war, and terrorism. And the mainstream media prefers that such discussions not take place either. In addition, since the Democratic candidate is part of the problem, not the solution, the Trump conundrum limits necessary political discourse.

So progressives have a problem. A Trump victory in November will have enormous negative consequences for the vast majority of the most marginalized sectors of American society, some of whom struggled for almost 100 years to achieve some modicum of social and economic justice. And a Clinton victory ensures the continuation of the institutions that have promoted the global capitalist agenda that has been in place for the last forty years: monopolization and financialization of the global economy and the use of “humanitarian” military interventions to implement the neoliberal order.

Perhaps for the coming period the prioritization of the progressive political agenda should include in this order: effectively say “no” to Trump at the polls; say “no” to the revitalization of neoliberal globalization after a Clinton Administration enters office in January, 2017; and finally say “no” to the American political binary that institutionalizes just two choices, forestalling discussions of fundamental change in the United States.